Cedric & Daffyd
Let’s not keep him waiting.” Queron strode forward and boldly
knocked on the door.
“Come in,” called a man’s voice from inside.
The room beyond the door was an underground library. Queron led them past tall, laden bookshelves to an open place at the center of the little room. The one wooden armchair in the room was occupied by the tall blond man Cedric had seen on the day of his and Mireille’s rescue with an assortment of benches and stools drawn up in a circle nearby.
The blond man stood, and Cedric was startled to realize he stood eye to eye with him. For all that he wore the plain black cassock of an ordinary priest, Joram MacRorie had the presence of an Archbishop in Cedric’s eyes. He was pale from living here underground away from sunlight, but his gray eyes were keen, and his face was stern and handsome in repose, with fine lines around his eyes and at the corners of his mouth. His pale golden hair was tonsured at the very top of his skull and it was hard to tell where the gold left off and the silver began. Cedric judged he might be in his early forties. He was lean and fit, and his spine was absolutely straight -- a man who could have looked distinguished wearing a feed sack. The grip of the long, fine-boned hand he extended to Cedric had a swordsman’s strength.
Mireille gave Father Joram a quick curtsey, and after getting her sharp elbow in his side, Cedric bobbed his head and tugged his forelock respectfully. Whether or not the Deryni had been driven literally underground, this son of an earl and a saint outranked him on every level and had saved his and Mireille’s lives to boot.
“You are both very welcome, here,” Father Joram told them in a clear, baritone voice. “There will be a few more people joining us. Please sit down, both of you while we wait for them.”
Cedric and Mireille shared a backless bench opposite the wooden armchair where Joram sat, Queron claiming a stool to his right.
For the next few minutes, Joram introduced the other men as they entered.
“Lord Gregory, Earl of Ebor until very recently and his son, Jesse…..My nephew, Ansel MacRorie….. Bishop Niallan Trey….another fellow Healer, Lord Tavis O’Neill.
“All of you now know that our unexpected guests are Master Cedric FitzHamon and his wife Mistress Mireille, and that Master FitzHamon is a Healer and a graduate of St. Neot’s.”
Each of those named claimed the other seats, Tavis taking the last stool to Cedric’s right. He studied them both and gave Cedric a very civil nod as Joram mentioned St. Neot’s.
“And, as you all know by now that our ambush of Sir Andrew McMahon’s hunting party, while successful has resulted in certain complications.”
Joram looked Cedric directly in the eye, his face sorrowful. “Most difficult of all, is the unintentional pain we have given you, Master FitzHamon. It appears that McMahon’s sniffer was himself a gifted Healer, and a man of excellent character, forced by our common enemies to betraying our people much against his nature and his conscience. Because of our ambush, Dafydd ap Huw suffered the same fate as our enemies.
“You must believe me when I tell you how much I regret our having caused his death, Master FitzHamon. But I would have you understand our reasons for what we did.
“My nephew Ansel and Jesse here had an encounter with the Custodes in a mountain inn about ten days ago, but were fortunate enough to escape - in part because the sniffer did not betray them. However, we feared that McMahon himself might have seen them, and would recognize them at some future time. Their capture would have been nothing short of disaster for our cause. And indeed, they were being pursued for a time by McMahon’s band. We dared not risk the Custodes tracking them here, or even coming close to our refuge. So we ambushed them and burned their bodies to leave no traces of them behind. We did not know then what manner of man Dafydd was, and there are those sniffers who are more cooperative with their captors than others. To spare him without knowing his nature would have been to take a chance on betrayal in the future. Too many lives hung in the balance.
“Nevertheless, I’m sorry to say that I was the one who actually killed him, Master FitzHamon,” Joram continued, maintaining eye contact. “If it will bring you any kind of comfort, I made sure he died quickly. A far worse death awaited him in Valoret, according to what Mistress FitzHamon was able to tell us.”
Cedric read the full truth of those statements, and nodded dully. But he had to break off eye contact first as he felt the sting of tears in his eyes. Surely the swiftness of arrows had been a better end for Dafydd than death at Custodes hands in Valoret.
“You say he let you escape by remaining silent at the inn,” Cedric said, looking now at Jesse and Ansel. “Surely, that must have told you all something about the kind of man Dafydd was?”
The two younger men looked at Cedric and then at one another, obviously very uncomfortable.
“You have every reason to be angry over your friend’s death,” Gregory of Ebor said. “But I was the one who suggested taking direct action against McMahon and his men. I was afraid for my son and for Ansel. And for them to be at all effective in our work, they need to be able to move about as freely as outlawed Deryni can in these days.”
“We will be holding a Requiem Mass for Dafydd tomorrow,” Joram said gently. “You will be most welcome to attend.”
“A Requiem!” Cedric laughed bitterly. “How wonderful!” He felt Mireille’s fierce warning pinch on his forearm, and saw her frown and shake her head at him in his peripheral vision.
“We have told you how much we regret being the instruments of Dafydd’s death,” Joram said. His face was still calm and he had not raised his voice, but there was a new severity in his tone that made Cedric squirm.
“Most unfortunately, undoing that is beyond my or anyone else’s power now. But even had we spared Dafydd, trusted him and made him a partner in our cause, the Custodes would likely have recognized him as one of their sniffers. His re-capture could have compromised our security even more than if they’d got their hands on Ansel and Jesse. Our chief motive for the ambush was for our own protection, not to cause the deaths of other men, even Custodes knights.”
“Nor are we ourselves the only people we seek to protect.” It was Tavis O’Neill who spoke now. “Had Ansel and Jesse been captured, even the King and his brothers would have been at risk with the information the Custodes might have forced out of them.”
“And of course, there is the matter of Dafydd’s own family,” Joram took over. “We could not have risked his doing something dangerous in order to set them free, and getting captured in the process - it would have undone whatever good the ambush accomplished. Nor do I have any stomach for telling a man he must choose between captivity and the family he loves, or freedom that comes at the cost of abandoning them.”
“But you did have the stomach to shoot him,” Cedric said, earning himself another warning pinch from Mireille.
“As you say, Dafydd’s death cannot be undone,” Cedric continued. “But his wife is still a prisoner in Valoret, and by now she must know that he’s dead. Is there anything we might still do for her? According to Sir Andrew, she is condemned to burn at the stake.”
All the men flinched at his words. Dom Queron looked particularly appalled. Father Joram shook his head, looking very much older for a moment.
“My answer may sound very hard-hearted to you,” Joram replied. “Or perhaps cowardly. But no, there is nothing I dare do for that poor woman. I have eyes and ears in the Royal Court at Valoret. The hostage families there are kept isolated and under heavy guard. Not even Prince Javan was allowed into that part of the castle. No one can see or speak to them without permission from the Regents, let alone try to get them out. God knows I pity her, and I regret her grief and her death sentence. But the chances against such a rescue attempt succeeding are immense, and the risk of death or capture for any one of us is far too high.”
“Do not think we are unmoved by her fate,” Dom Queron spoke with some effort. “I am aware as few men can be of what a terrible way that is to die. To have to watch it as a helpless bystander is indescribable.”
Joram reached out and squeezed Queron’s shoulder in comfort, then returned his attention to Cedric and Mireille as were all the other men.
Cedric stared back at them all, still defiant.
Gregory of Ebor threw up his hands. “All right! We are sorry!” he sighed explosively. “But Dafydd and his wife haven’t been the only Deryni victims in Gwynedd in the past two years!
“And,” he eyed them both with hard eyes. “If you found our actions objectionable, remember that the two of you benefited from what we did as surely as Dafydd and his poor wife did not. If we had not intervened, the two of them might still be dead or as good as dead, and you two would be prisoners and forced to serve your captors as Dafydd was no doubt forced, God rest him.”
“We are grateful, my Lord,” Mireille assured the Earl quickly. “Truly, we are.” She rewarded Cedric with another sharp jab in his ribs.
“Of course we are,” Cedric added. “It’s only that I’ve known Dafydd since we were both first year students at St. Neot’s.”
“It seems that at very least, our ambush kept another Healer and another hostage out of Custodes hands,” Joram said. “And we need not worry about Sir Andrew McMahon again. He was a dangerous man, and I certainly wouldn’t have wanted him trying to hunt me down. I don’t wonder you ran from him.
“Where were you bound when you left Nyford?”
“We were on our way to Corwyn,” Cedric answered, as relieved as the others to let the matter of Dafydd drop. “We thought of trying to establish ourselves in Coroth, as a Deryni Duke surely wouldn’t hunt down his own subjects.”
Joram nodded, looking thoughtful. “Duke Taysan is a solid man, and you’d certainly be better off in Coroth, than you were in Nyford.
“But if your intent is to flee anti-Deryni persecution, I would advise you to go farther than Corwyn. Taysan is treading a very dangerous line. The regents are enraged that he dares to continue ruling Corwyn as an open and acknowledged Deryni. But they don’t dare actually move against him, as he controls Coroth, which is the single most important seaport in the South. However, if he were to actually cut them off from Southern Sea Trade through that same control, it’s very likely that the Regents would see it as an excuse for a civil war, their real intention being to depose and kill Taysan. I do not think Corwyn could withstand the rest of Gwynedd indefinitely if it came to that. You would be better off in the Forcinn where our people can live peacefully as long as they use their heads and don’t abuse their powers.
Joram gave them both a long searching look. “I understand completely if your ultimate goal is to leave Gwynedd and make a decent life for yourselves elsewhere, and I will not urge you to stay against your better judgment. But I would like you both to consider the alternative I propose.” He indicated the circle of men sitting around him. “We who live here in the Haven are engaged in trying to save as many of the Gwyneddan Deryni as are left after the persecution that has already taken place. I can’t give you any details of what we do to accomplish this until and unless you should commit to joining our fight. In truth, Master FitzHamon, we could use a man like you, a Healer, a man able to keep his head in danger, and a man able to stay alive and survive in the wild, even when being pursued by his enemies. If you wished it you could be a great asset to our cause, and to your fellow Deryni. It’s a better sort of employment than the Regents would have given you, I think.” Joram smiled grimly.
“In return, we can provide as secure a home for the two of you as any Deryni can expect in these times. Your needs will be provided for, and as long as you maintain good faith with us, you will find us allies well worth having.”
“What sort of home, my Lord?” Mireille asked when Cedric did not speak.
“You are welcome to remain here at the Michaeline Haven, of course. Or you could go to Trevalga - Lord Gregory’s estate in the Connait.
“Gregory, is there room for Cedric and Mireille at Trevalga at present?”
“There’s always room for one or two more at Trevalga,” Gregory replied. “Especially for a Healer. You can live in the manor until your own cottage has been built.”
“Trevalga has become a city of refuge for those Deryni we’ve managed to save from capture or death,” Joram supplied when Mireille looked interested. “You would be living among our own kind, there.
“I won’t deny that joining our cause will be dangerous, Master FitzHamon. But unless at least some of us do what we can to safeguard a Deryni future, our people are finished. Which is exactly what the Regents and the Custodes want, of course.”
Cedric glanced aside - Mireille was alight with joy at the thought of a permanent home. He just felt exhausted and confused by it all. He could not argue with Joram’s assertion that the Deryni must stand up and save themselves. The task just looked huge, hopeless and if he joined this cause, he would be battling huge odds to save the merest remnant of those Deryni still left alive in Gwynedd. His head ached with all the information he’d absorbed in the last hour. He felt faintly manipulated, too, by the clever arguments of these would-be allies, and resented it. And he would not really know what would be required of him until he committed himself to these people. He was desperate for a breath of clean air to clear his head. True, they had rescued him and Mireille from a lifetime of forced servitude to their enemies. But if he refused, would they really let him go?
“What say you, Master FitzHamon? Will you join us?”
“Oh yes!” Mireille gasped.
“No,” Cedric said firmly in the same breath.
“No!? What do you mean no?” Mireille gasped, whipping her head around to glare at him in furious amazement.
“Father Joram, I’m sorry. I can’t do what you ask. I’m not a nobleman, I’m not a knight, I’m a peasant boy who by some strange accident became a Healer. What you propose frightens me. All I want for myself and my wife is a home where we won’t be persecuted, and live there in peace.”
Joram nodded, his face showing no signs of either resentment or disappointment. ”Be assured we will not keep you here against your will. I do not think I need to warn you of the danger you face beyond these walls. But before you leave us, for our safety and yours, I must ask that you trust us enough to allow us to adjust your memories of this conversation, and indeed of our existence. If you will agree to this, you will be free to go.”
Mireille’s joy was somewhat dampened by this pronouncement, and Cedric shifted on the bench uneasily. All of the men facing them were sitting quietly in their chairs, and although their faces were serious as they met his eyes, they made no threatening move. For all that, Cedric was very much aware that he and Mireille were now significantly outnumbered by exceedingly well-trained and powerful Deryni.
“How adjusted, sir?”
“Nothing more than you did to Geraint the goatherd and his wife, and for the same reason: to safeguard those who have given you food and shelter.”
Although Joram had spoken calmly and his face had remained neutral, the challenge had been unmistakable. At the time, he had felt that adjusting the old couple’s memories had been the best option for all concerned, and had done what he considered to be necessary without hesitation. It was considerably more intimidating to be on the receiving end of the memory adjustment. Had it felt as frightening to Geraint and Elspeth?
Mireille stood and made Father Joram and the others a respectful bob curtsey and a nod of her head.
“If you will excuse us for a little while Pere Joram, my Lords, I have to talk some sense into my thick-headed husband.” She rounded on Cedric, her hands on her hips as she glared down at him. “Are you coming?”
Cedric stood quickly although he nodded courteously to their assembled rescuers.
“Pardon us, sirs. We shan’t be long - assuming that I live, of course.”
“There is an empty room one door down the hallway to your right,” Joram told Mireille. He still looked serious and dignified, although Cedric plainly saw he was trying to subdue a grin. “We will wait for you here.”
The room in question was dark and when Cedric conjured a handfire he could see it was unfurnished as well, and about twelve feet square. Once the door was closed behind them, it felt even more claustrophobic. Mireille stood in the center of the room, hands once again on her hips, her black eyes blazing at him.
“What on earth is wrong with you?” she hissed. “We’re safe here! We have food, shelter, friends - they saved our lives, but you want to go back to wandering around in the wild dodging the Custodes with winter coming on!”
“They killed Dafydd.”
Mireille rolled her eyes and threw her hands up in the air. “Dafydd, Dafydd, Dafydd! Your precious Dafydd betrayed us to the Custodes! You and I both heard him confirm who you were when McMahon asked him. A better friend would have lied for you!”
“He didn’t want to betray us, Miri,” Cedric said. “ I’m sure he didn’t! You heard him say he’d done it for his wife’s sake! But they won’t help her - they won’t even try!”
“He still did it though, didn’t he? And if Pere Joram and the others hadn’t come along, you and I would be in chains in Valoret right now, and you’d spend the rest of our lives being forced to betray others of our people for my sake!
“But now, just when our luck has finally changed and we’ve found a home and strong allies, you say no when they ask for your help! You’d rather totter around in the wild and starve while dodging Custodes patrols! How can you be this abominably selfish?”
“They’re trying to manipulate me into agreeing. You heard Father Joram say he couldn’t tell me what they do until I’d committed myself to their cause, and they admit that what they do is dangerous. I happen to think they’re asking me to take a lot on faith.”
“He is a good man, and they all saved us,” Mireille said fiercely. “Pere Joram is the son of a saint, Cedric - what more do you want? Surely a man like that isn’t going to ask you to do anything that would go against your conscience!”
“I’m not like them, Miri! You and I are ordinary people whose lives have been blasted apart. I want to find a place for us to rebuild our future together without being hounded by our enemies.”
“You certainly aren’t like them,” Mireille snapped back. “You can’t have something for nothing, Cedric. Pere Joram and the others are in just as much danger for being Deryni as are you and I. But where they’re trying to do all they can to help save and hide other Deryni, you’re only thinking of ourselves! And I’ll tell you right now, if you do refuse to help them, I’ll never speak to you again!”
“I’ll help them if you won’t,” she went on, scarcely pausing for breath. “Even though I’m not as highly trained or as helpful to them as you would be. But I want to be a woman again!”
She grabbed a fistful of her short hair and gave it a yank. “I want to grow my hair properly and wear women’s clothes! Go wander about in the wilds and die in a ditch if you must! We’ve lost everything we had that wouldn’t fit into a knapsack, and now we’ve even lost those. I don’t even own the clothes I’m standing in now! But I’m damned if I’ll keep hiding and starving and being afraid, and finally die as you deliver our baby under a hedgerow in the middle of nowhere!”
“Baby! What baby?”
“OUR baby!” Mireille shrieked at him, now red in the face.
“Good God!” Cedric was silent staring at her. Finally he whispered “are you sure?”
“When, I mean, how?-“
“When we were with Geraint and Elspeth!” Mireille snapped. “And you know very well how!”
He shook his head in bewildered denial. “How can we bring any child into the world as it is now? You’re condemning the poor thing to a life of endless danger and fear.”
“With the Regents and Custodes imprisoning and killing as many of our people as they can lay their hands on, somebody had better start having more babies, or the Deryni, and especially the Healers, truly will die out!”
Mireille laid both hands over her abdomen and glared at him. “Make up your mind to it, Cedric. We’re having a baby, and I’m going to have him in a proper bed in a proper home with a roof over both our heads. You can run and hide or stay with us and do the decent thing by helping Pere Joram in his work, as you choose. Which will it be?”
Cedric felt his jaw working as he stared at his angry wife. The wife he couldn’t possibly leave behind. If he did so, he would sacrifice not only their first child and all other potential children but their marriage and Mireille’s respect and good opinion, and permanently. And his own, he had to admit. He did not know which was more important to him. To balance it there was his resentment at being manipulated, and the uneasiness of what he might be asked to do by Joram MacRorie and his allies. He half turned away from Mireille, trying to think clearly.
“Cedric!” Mireille’s anger was gone and she ran to him and flung her arms around his neck. Tears were spilling out the corners of her eyes.
“Don’t go! Think,” she begged. “The rest of your life will be affected by what you do next. If you leave us now and somehow find a refuge elsewhere, how will you feel when you think back on this day? Will you have any self-respect left? Stay and do this as much for your own sake as for anyone else’s!”
“Cedric, mon ame, mon couer,” Mireille whispered, pressing herself tightly against him. “Je-t’en prie.”
Cedric knew his decision had been made as soon as he heard her speak to him in Bremagni. She only did so in moments of extreme emotion.
“We left our cave hoping to find a refuge, and we’ve found one,” Mireille continued, her voice husky and choked.
“We were going to Coroth to build our life again and to find a home of our own. But you heard what Pere Joram said - Duke Taysan’s position is precarious. What if he should fall? Where would we go then?
“We can have our own home and live among our own people Ced. It will just be in Trevalga instead. Our baby will be as safe there as any Deryni child can be in these days. Please say you’ll come with us. Our son will need you - especially if he becomes a Healer.”
Cedric wrapped his arms around Mireille and hugged her tight, letting her reaction run its course. She was sobbing outright now, finally releasing all the fear and misery of the past few weeks.
“Of course I’ll stay,” he whispered when she’d quieted down enough to hear him. “On one condition.”
Mireille gulped noisily and wiped her streaming eyes with the back of one hand, her tears now a hicuppy backwash.
“What is your condition?”
He turned her so that her back was to him, her shoulder blades digging into his chest as he reached around to cover her abdomen with both hands.
“That his name will be Dafydd.”
~ Finis ~